Trying to Figure Out God’s Odd Leading in Your Life

Christmas shows us God’s leading proves wiser than our impatient pleas for progress.

God’s leading and timing in our lives often don’t make sense. We know that almost 2,000 years ago Joseph and Mary journeyed to Bethlehem. But we forget that approximately 2,040 years before they did, Jacob and Rachel, another expectant couple, traveled south along the same road.

God's Unusual Leading in Your Life

(Photo: Anton Raphael Mengs. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Rachel gave birth to Benjamin, but died soon after delivery, and Jacob buried her near Bethlehem (Gen. 35:19). Rachel’s death foreshadowed the devastation that the territory of Benjamin would suffer in Jeremiah’s time:

Rachel is weeping for her children . . . Because they are no more. —Jeremiah 31:15

Yet the prophecy found its final fulfillment in Jesus’ day, when Herod the Great slaughtered all baby boys in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:17-18). So, at God’s direction, Joseph fled to Egypt with Mary and Jesus to live until Herod’s death.

Each movement of Jesus’ family finds its cause in God’s revelation to Joseph:

  • Fleeing Bethlehem to Egypt
  • Returning from Egypt to Israel
  • Avoiding Judea to settle in Galilee

God’s purposes for these moves lay first in the protection of His Son, but Matthew notes that each directive also fulfilled Scripture. I doubt anyone but God saw beforehand the murky prophecies fulfilled by these geographic moves. But in hindsight, they become clear.

God’s leading and timing in our lives often don’t make sense either.  At least at first.

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Bethlehem—A Powerful Metaphor for Your Life’s Greatest Need

The place of Jesus' birth puts our priorities in their proper place.

Christmas cards and carols venerate Bethlehem as an idyllic, quiet place with “silent stars” above it and “deep and dreamless sleep” within its walls. A pleasant picture, for sure. But it wasn’t always so.

Bethlehem—A Metaphor for Your Heart

(Photo: Today’s little town of Bethlehem, courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Scripture’s introduction to Bethlehem isn’t pretty.

  • Jacob buries his favorite wife, Rachel, on the way to Bethlehem (Genesis 35:19).
  • The book of Judges mentions Bethlehem in conjunction with a corrupt priest who became a mercenary for idolaters (Judges 17:8-9).
  • Another account describes a Bethlehem concubine who, after leaving town, was brutally raped and dismembered (Judges 19:1-30).

Not a great beginning for the little town of Bethlehem.

But then, the scene shifts.

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Jesus’ Birth in a Humble Bethlehem Had You in Mind

What His ignoble birth means for you.

It must have seemed really strange. Honestly, it still does. Two thousand years of waiting for the Messiah, and He is born in a barn and laid in a feed trough.

Jesus' Birth in a Barn Had You in Mind

(Shepherd in modern Israel, courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

If it had been up to us, we would have given God’s Son a room in the finest five-star hotel in Bethlehem. But Jesus got only a one-star motel—and God had to provide the star!

When the shepherds hurried into Bethlehem to find the baby of whom the angels spoke, the wonder of God’s power must have seemed a strange contradiction to the conditions they found.

  • No halos hovered over Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.
  • Instead, they saw a poor couple surrounded by animals and the smell of manure.

Actually, the crudity of Jesus’ birth story offers really good news.

Because it had you in mind.

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The Herodium—A Monument to God’s Sovereignty

How a hill devoted to a paranoid king offers comfort to our anxious lives.

Herod the Great is often remembered for the biblical account that never appears on Christmas cards. Hearing from the Magi that the “king of the Jews” was born, the paranoid Herod slew all boys under two years old in Bethlehem—a cryptic fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:15.

The Herodium—A Monument to God’s Sovereignty

(Photo: The Herodium, courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Of course, Jesus’ family got word of the impending threat and escaped by night to sojourn in Egypt until Herod’s death (Matthew 2:13-18).

When I visited the Herodium in March, I couldn’t help but remember the historical irony that Herod tried to kill Jesus—but failed. Instead, Herod himself died and was buried in the Herodium overlooking the very city where the true King of the Jews was born (Micah 5:2).

The Herodium offers a lesson of great encouragement in God’s sovereignty in our lives today.

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Exchanging Bethlehem Shopping for Bethlehem’s Story

I’ll never forget my first visit to Bethlehem. In the city of Jesus’ birth, we spent the bulk of our time shopping. Sounds like Christmas, doesn’t it?

Bethlehem olivewood shop

(Photo: Bethlehem olivewood shop. By ecjones)

Gold jewelry set with opals and diamonds sat alongside bowls, oil lamps and other imitation artifacts. Olivewood statues filled the interior of the large establishment, coloring the whole room light brown.

Name any biblical character or animal, and there was an olivewood statue for you! Favorites included:

  • Samson pushing the pillars.
  • David slaying Goliath.
  • And, of course, Nativity scenes of every shape, size and price—from a few bucks to a few thousand.

And the tourists fell upon the plunder.

One wooden figurine caught my eye, a bust of Elvis Presley, and I had to grin. Elvis in Israel? I called over the owner, a proprietor who can smell a tour bus a mile away, and asked him my question.

He corrected me and told me who it really was.

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Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity—Appropriately Unassuming

Bethlehem’s main attraction centers on the oldest standing church in Israel. The ancient structure marks the traditional site of Jesus’ birth, and yet, it isn’t much to look at.

Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity—Appropriately Unassuming

(Photo: The front of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Built in the sixth century by the emperor Justinian, the Church of the Nativity sits on top of the location of the original octagonal church Constantine’s mother, Helena, constructed just a few centuries after Jesus.

When I went there earlier this year, it looked altogether uninspiring and unassuming.

To me, that’s appropriate.

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Your Epiphany of a Surprising Jesus

The little-known holiday, “Epiphany,” reminds us that the Wise Men came to Jesus after Christmastime. Rather than coming two weeks later, it was at least two years. How do we know? The Bible tells us (Matthew 2:1-2, 7, 16).

Visit of the Wise Men

(Photo: Visit of the Wise Men from thebiblerevival.com. Public domain.)

Jesus was a toddler when the Magi showed up. How surprised they must have been to come to Joseph and Mary’s humble house in Bethlehem instead of a posh palace in Jerusalem ( it was a “house,” not a stable; check out Matthew 2:11).

Jesus wasn’t the king they expected.

Our Expectations of Jesus—A Personal Epiphany

Honestly, to those who knew Him, Jesus didn’t fit most expectations of a king. Each one had an epiphany of sorts:

  • Jesus’ own family thought He was crazy.
  • The religious leaders blamed Satan for Jesus’ miracles.
  • And the wise magi? They didn’t come first to Bethlehem to look for Jesus. They headed to Jerusalem, to the place where kings were supposed to live.

Even those who walked in the footsteps of Jesus up and down the Holy Land—those He chose as His disciples—even these apostles stumbled over their expectations of who He should be.

We all do, in fact. (Talk about an epiphany!) Jesus never seems to be what we expect when we come to Him.

He is far greater.

Question: How was Jesus different than what you expected? To leave a comment, just click here.

Walking in the Footsteps of JesusLike This Post? Get the Whole Book!

This post is adapted from Wayne’s book, Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus: A Journey Through the Lands and Lessons of Christ.

• Enjoy an engaging, inspiring, and humorous travelogue that mingles the life-changing truths of Jesus with a walking tour of the Holy Land.

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A Little Town—Bethlehem

When we listen to Christmas carols and look at Christmas cards, we often find them filled with sentimental terms such as “tidings,” “goodwill,” “noel,” “cheer” and “Merry Christmas.”

Scenes on the cards typically depict a newborn (who looks about two years old) with radiant beams from His holy face, oxen and donkeys bowing, with halos hovering above Jesus, Joseph and Mary.

A Little Town—Bethlehem

(Painting by Mattia Preti. Public domain.)

We call the baby’s bed a “manger,” not a feed trough. We label the scene a “nativity,” not a birth. We’ve even built a church over the cave where Christ was born!

We do all we can to take away the ignobility the Bible explicitly portrays. And what’s that? Christ’s birth represented humility in the truest sense of the word.

Seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, Micah prophesied that One coming from eternity would bring the Jews back to their land and rule Israel with worldwide fame in the strength of the Lord (Micah 5:2-5). This mighty Messiah would come from the ignoble, little town of Ruth and David: Bethlehem (see Ruth 4:11, 22).

Why such unadorned humility? Because Jesus came the first time to live the life we should have lived and to die the death we should have died for our sins. The second coming of Christ is the one everyone wanted first. While Micah blended both advents into one prophesy, we understand the necessity of their separation (see Heb. 9:28).

We needed a Savior before we needed a King.

The words Phillips Brooks penned in 1868 after a Christmas Eve visit to Bethlehem remain so appropriate:

In thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light: the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

Going Places with God- A Devotional Journey Through the Lands of the BibleLike This Post? Get the Whole Book!

This post is adapted from Wayne’s book, Going Places with God: A Devotional Journey Through the Lands of the Bible.
• These 90 devotional readings, each based on a specific place in the lands of the Bible, will help you apply the truths of God’s Word to your daily journey of faith.
• You’ll enjoy pertinent Scripture, inspirational quotes, photographs, maps, and a daily prayer.

After going places with God, you’ll never be the same.

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